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Key Insights From the Teachings of Mahavira

A contemporary of Buddha, Mahavira was an enlightened master and the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism. Mahavira followed the path of renunciation, and he was in dhyaan (meditation) most of the time. Just like Buddha, he too was a Prince, who left the Palace in a royal palanquin. He removed all his garments and ornaments, becoming a digambar (“sky-clad”). For 12 years he was a meandering ascetic, walking by foot through forests and tribal areas. He contemplated and meditated in a standing position (kayotsarga mudra) for five months at a time, without taking any food, focusing on just one question: Who am I? As a result of this profound spiritual search, he achieved self-realization. For 30 years, Mahavira then travelled and shared his wisdom, attaining Nirvana at the age of 72.

Ahimsa was one of the main principles and codes of conduct in Mahavira’s teachings. Mahavira recognized the interdependence and co-existence of all living organisms in the Universe; he emphasized that Nature does not differentiate, and that even the smallest organisms have equal right to live like human beings.

Mahavira’s Theory of Karma states that there are three fundamental traits of the Soul in pure form - infinite knowledge (intuitive vision), infinite bliss and infinite power. But the Soul, engulfed by karmic matter, gets obscured of its purity. Mahavira emphasized that people should take responsibility not only for their actions but also for their thoughts, feelings, moods and intentions, because they too lead to accumulating negative karma and obscuring the Soul. The very act of thinking or supporting negative feelings creates certain vibrations.

Perception and Truth

The limitations of human perception and the impossibility of perceiving total truth are best captured in the parable of the seven blind men who try to determine the nature of an elephant. Each describes a different reality, based on the different parts of the elephant’s body which they touch. Everybody is correct to the extent of their own experience.

The Value of Meditation

To deal with karma, one should be watchful and maintain equanimity - no reactive emotions or feelings, not blaming others for the current situation, and meditation. According to Mahavira, meditation is the best method to deal with karmic matter.

There is a traditional story in Jain scriptures about a man who was seriously ill. The man went to a doctor, and the doctor prescribed suitable medicine. Although the man took the medicine, there was no improvement in his health. He then visited an astrologer, who also confirmed inauspicious constellation in the man’s horoscope, and prescribed certain rituals as a remedy. The man performed the rituals too, but to no avail. Thereafter, he visited a tantrik (magician), who assigned mantras. The mantras also turned ineffective. The man finally went to the forest and met a monk who was standing and meditating in silence. When the monk opened his eyes, the man shared his history of illness and asked for help. The monk replied that all these health issues were a result of karma, and that the only remedy for it was meditation: meditation is a cure for all maladies. Once the man began meditating, his illnesses got cured with time.

To learn more about the life and the spiritual path of Mahavira, and to understand the fundamental teachings (ten principles) of Jainism in great detail, watch the two-part Master Class presentation by Dr. H.C. Jain:

Dr. H.C. Jain is a former Chief Commissioner, Income Tax Mumbai, and presently engaged in the legal profession as an Advocate.

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